"Global Telcos Broaden Services"
"Global Telcos Broaden Global Services"
By Brendan B. Read
In the past, when a company considered locating a call center outside of the US, the local telco either government or privately-owned soon became its best friend. The carrier, often acting as that country's or province/local government's economic development arm, would extol the advantages of locating a call center there. It might even include a tour, if you were large enough.
In most countries, telcos were protected by a monopoly and by government ownership that gave these incumbent and favored carriers little incentive to improve their price and service once the switch was thrown on the PBX. Until recently, many large exchanges still used analog phones and switching.
In contrast, long distance carriers back home offered an increasing array of price competitive services (e.g., network ACDs, and IVR/CT) while they laid high-capacity fiber that permitted call centers in remote yet labor-viable places such as rural Maine and southwestern Virginia. One carrier, MCI WorldCom, supplies single-carrier end-to-end service. Its On-Net offer sidesteps the RBOCs, saving you between 15% to 30% over regular charges.
Worldwide deregulation and telco privatization are changing the relationship between countries and national carriers. Often, governments can no longer be seen favoring one carrier over another. To drum up job-creating foreign investment, national governments and their provinces and states have created and expanded economic development departments and their marketing to call centers.
Some carriers have divested their site selection divisions. The leading Swedish telco, Telia, handed off its locations function to Invest in Sweden Agency and later acquired Telenor, in neighboring Norway.
"In the past, you would go to a country's investment agency and it would direct you to the incumbent carrier," says Invest in Sweden's (New York, NY) senior investment manager, Mark Smedley. "Now you go to the agency and they give you a list of carriers to choose from."
If governments no longer automatically feed customers to home carriers, the open marketplace suggests that telcos are not tied to their former home regions. Many now compete both nationally and globally.
For example, Alberta Government Telephones, once owned by the province of Alberta, became Telus, a private company that recently merged with privately-owned BC Tel to form BCT.Telus (Vancouver, BC, Canada). BCT.Telus plans to compete for national voice/data business with Bell Canada (Toronto, ON, Canada).
In turn, Bell Canada teamed up with Manitoba Telecom Services and formed Intrigna (Calgary, AB, Canada), which will carry voice/data traffic for business customers including call centers in no surprise here Alberta and British Columbia.
In a politically savvy move, Telecom Ireland (Dublin, Ireland) has moved into Northern Ireland, increasing cross-border links into the British province.
Carriers have become interlocked in sometimes confusing transborder mergers and alliances, changing partners frequently. When WorldCom acquired MCI, it abandoned its international Concert inbound call-handling alliance with British Telecom (BT; London, England). BT then found a Concert partner in AT&T (Basking Ridge, NJ).
The flip side of this rapidly changing, highly dynamic and competitive telecom marketplace includes lowered costs, greater capacity and more services. Carriers have been slashing telecom prices, especially in Europe, while adding capacity and features. An Ovum study, A New Breed of Telco: The Emergence of the Pan-European Carrier , points out that until recently, European international circuit prices were 10 to 20 times higher than comparable US circuits. The study predicts that these numbers will drop by 20% to 70% per year.
Telecom price drops are already happening. The Gartner Group recently reported that European telecom services prices tumbled between 15% to 40% in 1998. A 1/13/99 Financial Times story predicts that circuit switching will become a commodity.
At the same time, carriers are laying and leasing bandwidth on new crosswater and land-based fiber optic cables and rings carrying ISDN, T-1, frame relay, ATM, Internet, e-mail and data traffic. More of them offer network ACD, IVR and follow-the-sun call routing that unites your international and US call centers into one global call center.
EURO/AUSTRALIAN TELECOS ENHANCE SITE SERVICES
The open market has not forced many telcos out of providing site assistance and related services, especially in Europe and Australia. If anything, these telcos are heightening their efforts to bring call centers to lock in customer loyalty. Being private firms, they have the resources to invest in such activities without facing open political scrutiny unlike government agencies. They are also less subject to pressure from local elected officials to favor one area or country over another.
One very useful service telcos provide to call centers is technology selection, leasing and maintenance, which reduces up-front acquisition and integration costs. Telcos' deep pockets give them substantial buying power. Most have extensive experience setting and upgrading their own call centers, which, due to competitive pressures, must be state-of-the-art to attract and retain customers at low cost. In turn, such equipment leases and installations build in loyalty that customers can literally bank on.
British Telecom offers a very comprehensive business and site support program. BT helps you each step of the way, from researching the European market to technology selection and call center staffing and training. BT's staff finds labor availability data, reports on telecommunications and transportation links to particular sites, and sifts through myriad grant programs to refine locations choices.
For setup assistance, the telco finds real estate and plans your voice/data service requirements. If you want to test the UK and European markets, BT puts you in touch with service bureaus and call center incubators temporary, fully-fitted "call center hotels" wherein you can test the UK/European markets.
The telco provides ongoing support through account management and stays in touch with development agencies. BT can also assist if you need to expand, relocate or consolidate your call centers.
"If you ask us to help make a business case for your European call center, including site assistance, you are not obligated to contract with us to provide your telecommunications services," says Mike Gibson-Sharpe, BT's international business development division, VP of marketing. "Yet we certainly hope that you would. The vast majority of businesses that have called upon us have become our customers."
Many other European telcos offer similar services. France Telecom (Paris, France) recently opened its first comprehensive service bureau, The Call Center Hotel, in the Paris suburb of Bagneux. If you decide to locate your center in France, France Telecom reviews your telco/data needs, and helps you find call center facilities, furniture and staff
Belgacom's (Brussels, Belgium) Brucall call center hotel in Brussels lets you test the Continental European market and customer acceptance of advanced technologies such as speech rec-enabled IVR. If you are looking for a service bureau, Belgacom links you to the country's best outsourcers.
Telecom Ireland offers three fully-fitted call center incubators in Dublin, Cork and Shannon, with a total of 750 workstations. Telecom Ireland also provides call center staffing and training assistance.
Should you choose The Netherlands for your call center location, KPN (The Hague, The Netherlands) provides call center setup project management and consulting plus systems integration. The telco examines markets for your call center and designs and recommends technologies for it. KPN leases and services Aspect and Nortel switches and Interactive Intelligence comm servers.
KPN also puts you in touch with outsourcers. The carrier's Internet services include e-mail customer service, in partnership with the Dutch-based outsourcer SNT. If you need outsourced live agent customer service and sales, the telco introduces you to SNT and other service bureaus. If you need high volume IVR outsourcing, KPN Telecom Teleservices' joint venture with SNT has the ports to handle your calls.
Germany is Europe's largest potential call center market. With over 80 million residents, Deutsche Telekom , the country's incumbent telco, helps you set up your center with a complete range of services from management consulting to systems integration.
In a country that is just now waking up to call centers as a means to reduce its double-digit unemployment rate, Deutsche Telekom recognizes that many people still look down on working in or being reassigned to a call center. That's why the telco helps you educate your workforce about call center employment, with topics including the advancement and training opportunities such positions can provide. Many companies are drawing on their call centers for experienced sales/management positions, human resources staff, hardware/software developers and engineers from help desks.
Deutsche Telekom also lines up call center facilities. Its DeTeimmo subsidiary owns and manages many office buildings. The telco arranges outsourcing either through its own networked centers with a total of 900 workstations, or through best-in-vertical-market service bureaus. If you are looking at setting up a call center in the Asia-Pacific region, Telstra (Sydney, Australia), Australia's leading carrier, is one of the most capable and experienced telcos on the map. Over 100 Australian firms have tapped Telstra to build their centers.
Telstra helps you through consulting, partnerships and products/services. Its professionals and partners work with you on everything from site selection (Australian states compete hard for call centers) to real estate, technology selection and staffing. If you need outsourcing services that cover the Asia-Pacific region, Telstra is a partner in Stellar, a service bureau joint venture with Excell Customer Care.
CANADIAN TELCO PARTNERSHIPS
Either independently or in close cooperation with Canadian provincial governments, telcos remain active site selection participants. Even where there is a partnership between a province and a telco, the government makes it clear that you have your choice of carriers. The Canadian federal government oversees and regulates telcos.
Ontario, Canada's most populous province and home to the country's business and political capitals, is also Canada's call center citadel. To attract and serve call centers, Bell Canada's Call Ontario team provides one-stop-shopping from site assistance to technology selection and can provide agent training either by itself or in partnership with firms such as Drake International, a leading recruitment firm.
Call Ontario sits down with you and helps determine the best location for your type and size of call center. This is especially useful in a large, diverse province like Ontario, whose cities and regions have varying labor supply, costs, availability and skill sets. The Bell Canada professionals also sift through the grants and incentive programs that differ from one region to another. Call Ontario talks with (but does not actively join) the provincial government on call center marketing.
"We work with companies to find the site best suited to a particular operation," says Call Ontario's executive director, Jim Fisher. "We consider both cost and non-cost criteria."
Bell Canada is also a partner in Vision Quebec , a public-private partnership formed to attract call centers to the province of Quebec; the telco is Quebec's incumbent carrier. In contrast to Call Ontario, which it publicizes on its Web site, Bell Canada does not list Vision Quebec; instead it lists its Call Centre Solutions products and services lines.
On the other hand, the province of New Brunswick and NB Tel (Saint John, NB, Canada) continue their very successful relationship. The government and the telco work jointly to promote New Brunswick's advantages, which include an available, educated, low-priced and loyal labor force. Over 60 new US and Canadian call centers have set up in the province over the past 10 years.
Both partners have seen ownership changes that do not appear to affect their relationship. In June, voters ended the Liberal party's 10-year rule and elected a Conservative government. NB Tel recently merged with three other Atlantic provinces' privately-owned telcos: Island Tel (Prince Edward Island), MT&T (Nova Scotia) and Newtel (Newfoundland and Labrador) under the Aliant banner.
"Our focus will remain on developing services for New Brunswick," says NB Tel's general manager of new business ventures, Steve Titus. "We've been structured so that we answer to NB Tel's COO, completely separate from the other call center teams in the other provinces."
NB Tel assists companies that wish to set up call centers in the province by determining their needs and finding the cities that best match their criteria. The telco has strong, established relationships with local development authorities and real estate firms and helps find staff through its recruitment agency partners.
While many telcos lease equipment to call centers, NB Tel is one of the few that installs, maintains and upgrades PBXs as if you were outsourcing them. This service reduces your up front capital costs and integration/setup hassles. The telco charges you by the workstation, transaction or by the month whichever is mutually feasible. Its professionals work with you to plan your expected needs and oversize the switch to meet projected volume.
The carrier provides excellent ongoing service and support. It has dedicated over 250 employees to serving call centers, including customer service and help desk reps. NB Tel constantly monitors telecom links to call centers with a service management team and assigns technicians to individual centers. If your center is large (over 200 seats), NB Tel can assign a technician to your premises.
If your center faces a disaster like an ice storm that forces you to shut it down, NB Tel backs you up with its fully-fitted disaster recovery centers for call centers only. The centers, located in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, can take calls within 30 minutes.
A newcomer to government/call center partnerships is Linx BC (Vancouver, BC, Canada), recently formed between BCT.Telus and the British Columbia provincial government. Linx BC also works with regional economic development agencies in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince George to attract and ease call centers into these communities.
Linx provides site selection assistance from statistical information to real estate aid, technology and staffing/training and employee transportation access. BCT.Telus and the province help you find space through contacts with major real estate agencies and with the British Columbia Buildings Corporation, which is in charge of provincial government property. The government recently cut back and centralized its offices in Victoria, the province's capital, leaving prime space in the city's attractive, quaint downtown.
BCT.Telus provides turnkey hardware and software packages, plus training to new call centers. The firm draws from the expertise it has gathered from setting up and running 11 call centers that employ 2,000 agents. Its BC Tel Call Centre of Excellence training program, run by the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) at its downtown Vancouver campus, has graduated over 100 agents and managers since September 1997.
Such training assistance is also available outside of the Vancouver area. BCIT works with community colleges elsewhere in the province to set up and supply agent training nearest to your center. BCT.Telus also partners with Malaspina College, in Nanaimo, and will soon launch a training program similar to BCIT's.